The Busters of Ghostbusting

Today is “Administrative Professionals Day,” yet another day where a calendar suggests that we respect a certain person, when in reality we should just respect everyone who deserves it all the time for the hard work they do in any field. Anyway, Sony released a video today coinciding with the release of the 2016 version of Ghostbusters (which I previously talked about how I’m not really concerned), which focused solely on Chris Hemsworth’s character Kevin, the receptionist for the ghostbusters.

For the context of this discussion, we have to look back at how many people saw the first trailer for the new movie, and used it as proof (definitive of otherwise) that the movie would suck; the jokes are bad, the CGI looks terrible, the props look dumb, and all that. What really got me was the “the jokes are bad” complaint.

Now, I love trailers, they’re (hopefully) crafted into these mini-vignettes of all the important details that we should know going into the movie or video game, and to get us excited. It could be because I really like how scenes are cut, and seeing how they put things together in a way that can get me excited is very interesting. It’s seeing how a trailer can manipulate pathos, it’s interesting. Plus, who doesn’t love being excited? Of course, it’s entirely possible for a trailer to be misleading, like how after having seen Batman v Superman I realized that most of the footage in the trailers that depicted the two heroes fighting one another was just finely crafted cutting of the two fighting a mutual enemy instead.


Despite the title of the movie, Superman is not trying to incinerate Batfleck in this shot.

As I’ve said before, I love the Ghostbusters franchise, but the first film came out around the time I was barely cognizant of where I was, so I missed the trailers. Interested in the complaint that “the jokes are bad,” I went back on YouTube to find the original trailers for the first two movies (for the sake of brevity, we’ll just talk about the first).

So, first off, that trailer voiceover is just terrible. “They catch the ghosts that won’t stay dead” already sounds silly enough as it is, without it being delivered by a narrator trying his rumbliest voice. Interestingly, this trailer and the new 2016 one hit many of the same points. There’s a build-up, you show the characters, some jokes that can work well enough without context but are still slightly shaky at points, some visual spectacle of busting ghosts, them being all cool, and then show us that title card. However, the major point is that it doesn’t give you much about the characters. We can of course infer that these guys are funny, given some of the jokes they made, like “Important safety tip,” but we don’t necessarily understand how weird Egon is, or how lovable Ray is, or how much of a “game show host” Pete is. Hell, we don’t know a damn thing about Winston from this trailer, and Janine, as criminally underused as she is in the first movie, doesn’t give off any other impression than “receptionist.” One half of what makes the movies so fun is the characters, and how they interact with the world and each other. We only get a small glimpse of that in the 1984 trailer, not enough to ever be able to say the kind of people they are, and to be endeared to them, to care about their struggles.

Now, it’s difficult because you have to look at a trailer for a movie you’ve seen (millions of times), where the characters are so well-known to you, and you could recite the entire movie’s script if you got bored. Plus, any ‘busters fan worth their salt knows there are some much better jokes in the movie that exemplify why we love the comedy so much, which don’t get used in the trailer. Now, compare that original trailer from 1984 with the 30th anniversary version.

Muuuuuch better. Hindsight is always 20/20, and whoever made the trailer was able to snag some jokes that deliver more on character, rather than focus on solely the spectacle of ghosbusting peppered with some jokes lacking much of their context. In the course of writing up this post, I also came across this fantastic fan-made trailer that takes the original film and uses the 2016 film’s trailer style to present itself.

This is really cool! They managed to find lots of great material from the movie that shows a lot of the on-the-job comedy, as well as how goofy the guys were when they were just starting out. We even get our “Back off man, I’m a scientist,” and a bit more insight into the characters. Perfect! Unfortunately, it’s all the same thing where we have the benefit of choosing the best jokes, and some of it is still working off of nostalgia for characters we already know and love.

Now, comparing the 1984 trailer to the 2016 trailer, we sort of have the same problem, we get a bit of humor, but it’s mostly out-of-context, or it’s jokes that are fairly safe, oftentimes sight gags that can work simply because they’re in visual medium, like the ghost puke and “Was the hat too much?” Look at how much time was spent on that hit-or-miss exorcist slap scene. That’s a fairly large portion of the trailer when you put it together with its setup where McCarthy’s character is possessed and then tries to kill the others. That was essentially a truncated scene. The saving grace for this trailer, is that we at least get a bit more incite into the characters that we never got with the original 1984 trailer. We can see a bit of who is silly, who is awkward, who is bombastic, but we still don’t really know enough, because it’s only a trailer – for a movie that another half of its appeal is a special effects orgy with that quirky made-in-the-garage technology the characters use.

Then, today we get this little featurette showcasing Chris Hemsworth’s character, and suddenly it’s all jokes, many with a fair amount of context. This is sorta what I’ve been thinking about how Ghostbusters just doesn’t “trailer” well (before release). The original trailers didn’t really do the films justice either, because they can’t focus enough on the characters and all the contextual jokes that made it so enjoyable, aside from the visual spectacle of ghostbusting. That’s the problem, Ghostbusters was as much about busting ghosts as it was about the busters and their relationships and interactions with other people; from each other, to clients and the ghosts they bust. Even how they were viewed by the city, the EPA, and moldy Mesopotamian gods.

In the first 2016 trailer, you have the same thing where they have to go for jokes that can work well enough on their own, with little-to-no context, since they can’t focus very much on the characters without essentially giving away large portions of the movie’s character-aspected side. Then you have this featurette which focuses solely on the context of one character and some of their interactions throughout the film. It shows more of what is actually in the film, instead of glossing over the character-focused nature of the comedy for quick clips as trailers do. I kinda hope they do these focused trailers for the other characters, just to see more of the comedy-side of the film, for better or worse.

I’ve also been a fan of a lot of Paul Feig’s work in the past, especially Freaks and Geeks and stuff like Spy, which doesn’t rely heavily on McCarthy’s ability to just be an in-your-face, bombastic character (like Bridesmaids). Regardless of whether the new movie is good or bad, I have no expectations other than to see characters crack jokes while busting ghosts, and I’ll reserve judgment until after I see it to be able to talk about quality.

I know one thing is for sure though: good or bad, it won’t ruin the franchise or a person’s enjoyment of said franchise, because that’s just not how things work.

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